By Thom Jennings email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — In the 1980s The Kinks were headlining arenas and dominating MTV with an ode to their past “Come Dancing.” Few bands have been fortunate enough to enjoy two major commercial peaks nearly 20 years apart, but that is exactly what The Kinks did, in 1964 with “You Really Got Me” then in 1983 with the aforementioned “Come Dancing.”
A year later, guitarist Dave Davies — who will be performing at The Bear’s Den this Saturday — penned one of my favorite Kinks songs, “Living on a Thin Line” which appears on their 1984 release, “Word of Mouth.”
“To me it epitomized everything about The Kinks, being on a tightrope, everything was a gamble, one minute you are a big success and the next minute nobody knows you. That’s the nature of the music business, one minute you’re everybody’s hero and the next minute nobody cares. One day you have a lot of money, the next you’re broke,” Davies said during a recent telephone interview.
That tension was also driven by the complex relationship between Dave and his brother Ray Davies. Together, rock music’s most famous siblings produced a vast catalogue of music that influenced an entire generation of musicians. They were a band that always tested the limits with songs like “Lola” about a transvestite or producing theatrical masterpieces like “Schoolboys in Disgrace.”
“Ray and I come from a very eclectic background. We grew up with older sisters whose favorite artists were everything from Perry Como to Fats Domino to Elvis, Little Richard and Hank Williams. They were all inspirations and we drew from those artists. We also had a broad mind about different styles of playing, heavier players like Chet Atkins and The Ventures and then there was Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, James Burton and early Ricky Nelson. We drew from all of those elements.”
Even though Ray was the face of The Kinks, Dave Davies has long been considered one of the most influential guitarists of his generation, and is 88th on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists of all time, thanks in part to his cutting the cone on a small green guitar amp to produce the unique distorted sound heard on “You Really Got Me.”
“I didn’t think for a minute it would work, but then this gritty and raspy sound came out and I loved it. Not everybody liked it, especially the recording engineers. It was just an amazing time.”
The song was not only a hit for The Kinks, Van Halen released a popular version in 1977.
“The original was a back against the wall style, literally because we only had one shot. That record might never have come out. The record company people were really apprehensive about the aggressive style it had. There wasn’t anything like it. Even Jimi Hendrix said to me that it was a landmark guitar sound, and that was quite a compliment. It was really just kids trying to express themselves, whereas the Van Halen version was more flashy and accomplished kind of a ‘hey look at me I’m groovy.’ The original record has the elements of struggle and being back against the wall, I think that is what makes it special on a lot of levels.”
On a personal level, Dave has dealt with his own struggles, including a stroke in 2004 that made many people wonder if he would ever be able to play guitar again. I asked him if there were any residual problems associated with the stroke.
“No, I am doing very well, I count myself very lucky. There was a lot of therapy and rehab and you have to have a positive outlook on life. My spiritual life has been paramount, it helped me mentally when I was ill and it continues to be very prominent part of my life. I am just finishing up a mini-book about mediation that should be available on Kindle.”
Next year The Kinks celebrate their 50th anniversary, and the band has not performed together since 1996. Dave and Ray have been performing as solo artists in recent years and a reunion of the brothers would certainly be welcomed by the band’s faithful followers.
“Me and Ray have spoken about it but we haven’t made a decision yet. We will meet up at the end of the year and see where we are with it. I don’t think it’s out of the question, but nothing is confirmed. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about it although I think it would be a shame if Ray and I didn’t do something.”
In the meantime — until the brothers work out the kinks — you can catch Dave Davies at the Bear’s Den on Saturday.Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.